Fifth Grade

 

From our mostly white school in Kansas

we brothers were pulled

to be enrolled into Pomona School in California,

a place of multiple colors, multiple accents,

and multiple altercations.

 

Soon we found ourselves pummeled and pummeling

on the asphalt playground, our futures dependent

on how we punched back at the

white, brown and black faces that attacked us

between the painted white lines.

 

For homework we pulled kitchen chairs

into a circle in our dirt yard to watch neighborhood kids

with fat boxing gloves swing for the head.

We waited for our turns.

 

Fresh from white Kansas

we were a year ahead

in reading, writing, and math.

 

But we had catching up to do

in the other subjects.

 

item: sex found to cause global warming

 

i look into

and then through a mirror

that has reflected me,

faithfully, for years.

 

unfortunately i see the same face.

 

but suddenly

the mirror shows

my light-blue eyes

reflecting jade-green light.

so what brought this on?

 

then i remember

reading recently about

the north pole shifting slightly —

perhaps causing my eye color

to shift slightly, too?

 

further, scientists aver that

the entire universe is connected:

our great galaxy gathers,

as if sheep, the stars which gather

the planets which gather the

moons connected to the hip bones,

the hip bones

connected to the thigh bones, and…

sexy astrophysics, anyone?

 

as our world shifts again,

my suddenly purple eyes

widen as i also remember

physicists have recently found

that seemingly unconnected bodies

can enact changes on one another,

showing the universe’s deep eroticism

which could explain, my love,

the force that pulls me to you.

 

a learning tale

at 15 i discovered in class

the hands of young women:

how their fingers cradle a pencil

how those fingers have smooth knuckles and

long nails and

how those nails are long windows

with half moons rising.

i saw delicate symmetry

in the way their fingers

taper down to the tips,

in the way their hands

float like gliders,

and i dreamed their touch on my skin.

 

then mom got sick and i,

eldest of three sons,

tried to train my hands to do

what hers had done for us:

to separate colors from whites

to pour bleach as the agitator churns

to hang shirts on the line so not

to be pinched by the pin

to spread the collar flat before the iron

to chop the onion without blood

to mop the swirling dust.

 

years have passed.

last week at the home i watched her hands

knuckles thickened with calcium

fingers stiffened with pain

deftly feed father

then wipe his chin,

 

her hands blue-veined,

her nails with half-moons rising.

 

on an overcast morning

the courage of small animals can put us to shame. recently i read a newspaper account of how the insane anger of two chihuahuas had forced a mountain lion up onto the rafters in a garage, where animal control found it, cowering. and it is common to see small birds attacking larger predators. i feel sometimes that i would like to have some of that courage, that fire, to face gray mornings. but sometimes courage can be a cooler emotion when displayed over a longer period of time. 

 

on an overcast morning…

 

…I hear a bird riffing up

and down a tune:

 

the house finch     flame-chested

sparrow-light     skin and hollow bones

 

clockwork  joints

overlaid by mere feather

 

yet I recall finches mobbing

their enormous crows.

 

so is courage stoked by

fire at one’s core?

 

perhaps so.

 

but what of finches’ migration?

no radar’s beam to follow just

 

tired muscle and memory

of sun, wind and moon

 

driven by spirit

more relentless than anger

 

and love of long distance

of beating the miles

 

though some perish

a few lose the way.

 

Dear Wife,…

 

…you’ve sweetly saved the poems i’ve written you for 39 years,

kept them in boxes tucked around the house

until they spilled out from one room to another,

until you rented the storage unit.

 

if one day you decide to haul them all out,

to hire fork-lifts to pile them on pallets in the back yard

and then if once more you read them all again, one after another,

in sunshine and also in darkness to the light of a coleman lantern,

ignoring the national media showing up

in their vans with radar dishes on top,

ignoring the inevitable invitations for interviews

flooding in from CBS, NBC, CNN, and Animal Planet,

 

could you, having survived days on little more than

grilled cheese sandwiches and chai latte tea,

could you, after having finally read the last poem while the

USC marching band roared away in front of our house

and while overhead the Goodyear Blimp did a slow fly-over,

whipping up neighborhood children into crazy ecstasy,

could you then, even then, begin to comprehend

how much i have loved you all of these years?

 

washing the car     for example…    

…how you park it

beneath a tree     or in the shade of a house

and gather a brush, a sponge, a chamois

aim water at the body

then let hands and eyes learn its secrets

the curve of fender     bulge of bumper

covert places where drops dry into ghosts

so you work quickly     your arm in arcs

fat drops to scant trails     grace     you see

as you put your eye near her surface

oh, I could make a book of this     I see it now

return to Egyptian slaves washing

Pharaoh’s chariots     context

how car washing is class-driven

how my ancestors polished carriages

broughams of wealthy burghers     how     against their will

men’s fingers memorized lines

the touch of oak-grain curves

how the dad would pass on the art of it to his sons

the sexism of that     the truth of that

or how the car wash     the detailer now

subvert our values

or I could simply immerse you in ritual     clean then dirty

then clean again    as she shines once more     under a shade tree

while your radio plays the anthems

 

I, Myself, Am Sick of Illness…

…and old age and death

that surround us now

that consume our lives

in meaningless medical tests,

in eulogies and elegies

and requiems by French composers.

 

We cast ever more ashes over land

and sea and darken

the atmosphere with ashes.

Inhaling deeply

we choke on memories.

 

And how did we forget to dance

the old steps

that gave us such joy?